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Volume 21 No. 1
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Ebersol, Zaslav working together again

OLYMPICS

Ebersol and Zaslav working together again

One of the more interesting subplots of Discovery’s stunning bid to land Olympic rights in Europe through 2024 is the role Dick Ebersol had in advising Discovery President and CEO David Zaslav through the process.

The two are longtime friends; Zaslav calls Ebersol a mentor. They first worked together in 1989 at NBC. In the mid-1990s, Zaslav was responsible for convincing cable operators to increase their license fees for NBC’s cable channels as a way to help the network afford the Olympics’ price tag.

DICK EBERSOL
Photo by: PATRICK E. MCCARTHY
“In 1995, David became the most important new friend that I had, because he had to go out and get sub fees on cable for the Olympics,” Ebersol said. “That sub fee that David went out and got — that started with Sydney and has never stopped — in essence became the secret sauce of NBC’s ability to win all of the Olympic rights from that point on.”

The two have remained close, talking regularly. Ebersol was at Zaslav’s side last month as Discovery’s Olympic deal was announced.

But it was a phone call Zaslav placed to Ebersol last summer that convinced the two to start working together again — with Ebersol as an unpaid adviser. Discovery had just taken a controlling stake in Eurosport, and Zaslav almost immediately identified Olympic rights as a priority. After all, around 40 percent of Eurosport’s programming is devoted to Olympic sports, Zaslav said.

At the time, Eurosport was not really on the International Olympic Committee’s radar, and Zaslav asked Ebersol to introduce him to the relevant Olympic executives, which he did, culminating in an October meeting with IOC Director General Christophe De Kepper.

Ebersol: “The thing that became unbelievable was that no more than 10 days later, my phone rang. It was De Kepper. He said, ‘Would I take a phone call from IOC President Thomas Bach?’ I did, and Bach said, ‘We’re so excited that you’re back around this world. We’d like you to consult with us, too.’ I said, ‘Well, you know the terms of my deal. I don’t want to be paid.’ And he said, ‘Well, that’s always appealing.’”

Ebersol currently is on one of the IOC boards, advising them on how an Olympic channel should be developed.

— John Ourand